The great Indian director Satyajit Ray considered this 1964 adaptation of the Rabindranath Tagore novella “The Broken Nest” to be the personal favorite among his many works. Set in Calcutta in 1879, the film’s title character is the lonely wife of a wealthy political newspaper publisher. Belatedly recognizing Charulata’s isolation, the publisher arranges for her ne’er-do-well brother and his unsophisticated wife to join their home – but the arrival of the publisher’s young poet cousin Amal creates unexpected tension when Charulata responds to his energy and artistic abilities. But the friendship between Charulata and Amal begins to detour in an unexpected route, which threatens to create an emotional crisis that neither is able to handle.
This exquisite restored version from the Criterion Collection offers a pristine visual quality that was significantly lacking in previous presentations – Subrata Mita’s crisp cinematography and the creative production design by Bansi Chandragupta (three-quarters Victorian stuffiness and one-quarter Indian motif) is a glory to behold. While the screenplay’s references to the politics and literature of Victorian-era India might be lost on some contemporary viewers, the film nonetheless provides a mature detailing of self-discovery and the gradual breakdown of relationships. And the fine performances by Madhabi Mukherjee as Charulata and Soumitra Chatterjee as Amal (both are interviewed in the special edition features) offer the most remarkably subtle performances of the Ray canon.
This release helps to fill the void of Ray films that are available on U.S. DVD and Blu-ray, and it is among the year’s finest retro offerings.